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Office in the Sky: WET Students Take Training to New Heights

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
By Eladio Jaimez

IsaacROSCOE — Jeremiah Maldonado wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Earlier this semester, Maldonado and six of his classmates at the Renewable Energy Training Center in Ingleside decided they would bypass their Spring Break and travel to Sweetwater in west Texas to climb a wind turbine.  And climb they did.  About ten stories high to get to the top of a wind turbine.

“Being in decent shape, I didn’t think it was going to be too much of a problem,” Maldonado said. “But it took some effort and we got a little winded. But we handled it and it was a good experience,” said Maldonado.

Texas State Technical College Harlingen and Wind Energy Technology (WET) director George Lister asked his group if they wanted to take advantage of the break and make the six-hour trip for some hands-on training.

“It’s a dedicated group that’s for sure,” Lister said. “They got a taste of the real world today. This is what they can expect on a day-to-day basis when they join the workforce. They tested their physical stamina and put to use their safety training. That’s always a primary concern for us. And today they got to practice what they’ve been learning in the classroom.”

The Ingleside group drove to Sweetwater because the TSTC campus in West Texas owns and operates its own wind turbine.  The TSTC wind turbine is located in the Rosco Wind Farm in Rosco where nearly 700 wind turbines spread over a four-county area.

“Wind farm owners are hesitant (to let students climb) for two reasons,” Lister said. “One, there’s a liability issue. And two, it’s a production environment. They’re not going to shutdown production so we can climb. So through my prior association with the West Texas campus and because I know they have really good instructors here too, I asked our students if they wanted to drive out here. It was a good experience all around.”

A group of four students, including Maldonado, climbed in the morning. Maldonado was joined by Delbert Dietz, Isaic Boyd, Robert Yaklin, Lister and TSTC West Texas rescue instructor Tad Baird.

The second group, which climbed in the afternoon, included Lister, Baird, Travis Potts, Jared Howe and John Bernshausen.

The students were given a quick rundown of instructions and inspected all climbing gear before moving up the ladder. The 300-foot ascension took approximately 45 minutes to complete. Once on top, the students climbed out onto a deck overlooking the endless west Texas plains.

Baird, an experienced climber of two years, said individual climbs could take as few as four to 15 minutes to complete. The latest climbs took longer because it involved several climbers and instruction along the way.

Maldonado said getting mentally prepared was as important as the physical prep work.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be afraid of heights,” he said. “Once we were up there I just dealt with it. I guess if I was afraid, I conquered it.”

Boyd, a 2009 high school graduate from Hawaii and the youngest of the group, said the training climb was essential in preparing for the life after graduation.

“You learn to trust your equipment,” Boyd said. “Because when you’re up there that’s all you have.”

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